Earthquake-like ruptures break the contacts that form the frictional interface separating contacting bodies and mediate the onset of frictional motion (stick-slip). The slip (motion) of the interface immediately resulting from the rupture that initiates each stick-slip event is generally much smaller than the total slip logged over the duration of the event. Slip after the onset of friction is generally attributed to continuous motion globally attributed to ‘dynamic friction’. Here we show, by means of direct measurements of real contact area and slip at the frictional interface, that sequences of myriad hitherto invisible, secondary ruptures are triggered immediately in the wake of each initial rupture. Each secondary rupture generates incremental slip that, when not resolved, may appear as steady sliding of the interface. Each slip increment is linked, via fracture mechanics, to corresponding variations of contact area and local strain. Only by accounting for the contributions of these secondary ruptures can the accumulated interface slip be described. These results have important ramifications both to our fundamental understanding of frictional motion as well as to the essential role of aftershocks within natural faults in generating earthquake-mediated slip.
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